The US biotechnology industry is notoriously fast-paced; it is one of the country’s fastest-growing sectors with hundreds of new technologies, devices and therapies being worked on every day. The hotbeds of innovation across the US – such as Boston and San Francisco – are becoming increasingly competitive hiring environments, as start-ups and biotech giants alike compete for the best in scientific and commercial talent.

In San Francisco alone, there are currently over 7,000 vacancies in biotech firms, and this number soars to almost 50,000 open biotech vacancies in the US as a whole. With so much demand for a limited talent pool, getting the best people on board can be far from straightforward. This is further exacerbated for companies who specialize in niche or emerging technologies such as single-cell, spatial omics or organ-on-a-chip, due to their need for candidates who have very particular skills and experience.

Smaller firms in particular are struggling to secure top talent unless they have budgets, bonuses and benefits that at least rival their larger counterparts. But it’s not just SMEs: in both Boston and San Francisco, over 80 of the top 100 companies are hiring. So how can innovative biotech firms attract and retain the talent they need for growth and success?


1. Be agile with your interview processes and job requirements

There are two things differentiating the success of hiring teams in US biotech today: speed and flexibility. A whopping 14% of biotech salespeople in Boston and San Francisco moved roles within the last 12 months and figures are even higher in more specialized fields such as genomics. This labour mobility means firms must be fast and flexible to secure candidates.

Firstly speed; the high demand for biotech talent in areas such as San Francisco, Boston and New York is seeing available talent be snapped up in weeks, even days, by those firms with efficient and decisive hiring processes. If you’ve had a very talented candidate, come into interview, chances are they’ve got multiple interview processes on the go and multiple offers on the table. Therefore, companies with convoluted and time-consuming interview processes will lose out.

In fact, we’ve seen candidates have interviews, receive and accept an offer, then begin at the new company in the same time it’s taken other firms to provide first-round interview feedback. To avoid this, where possible, try to strip back your hiring rounds and interview task requirements to the essentials, involving all your key stakeholders early on to expedite the process. We’ve also seen candidates for a range of roles drop out of interview processes due to the time commitment demanded by extensive interview tasks, which take up hours of their own time.

Secondly, being flexible to a great candidate’s wants and needs will boost your chances of attracting and great talent. Over the last few years, candidates who were previously typically office-based have become accustomed to working from home, having flexibility with their hours and location, and spending less time commuting. Due to this, it is important to offer candidates flexibility where possible, as it will allow you to attract a lot more candidates.

For example, I was recently working with a company that had a Product Manager role vacant for over 1.5 years because they couldn’t find candidates within their budget, who also had the right technical experience, lived in a commutable location and were willing to be in the office 5 days a week.

After the company adapted and made the role remote, we filled it in less than 1 month and they managed to get everything else they were looking for. More and more people are prioritizing flexibility, work-life balance and benefits over salary, and firms need to adapt accordingly.



2. Offer your best package

It’s no surprise that the competitive nature of these biotech hubs has seen salaries rise faster than ever, as firms jostle for the talent they need. Now more than ever, it’s important that companies have realistic expectations on what their budget can get them.

Over the last two years, average salaries have shot up globally. For example, back in 2020, if a genomic equipment manufacturer was looking to hire a Business Development Specialist, a base salary of around $120-140k with on-target earnings (OTE) of around $200k would yield good candidates in the Boston or San Francisco area. Now these same candidates are looking for bases of $150k-$180k plus $80-$100k in bonuses.

There are many reasons for this increase, including a rise in the cost of living. However, I would suggest that competition between competitors in these hubs of industry is the main reason, as companies are forced to offer higher packages in order to take the top performers from their competition.

It isn’t realistic for every company to be able to compete with these rises (especially start-ups). My advice to firms would be to have a good understanding of the hiring market in your industry, which you can achieve through regular benchmarking and competitor analysis. A few alternative solutions could be looking for candidates in an adjacent industry or different location, providing additional benefits apart from salary or considering more junior candidates who you could invest time into training.

Stock options are another great way for companies to financially incentivize candidates without overstretching limited budgets. There are many market examples where this has been a very lucrative benefit for candidates, such as Illumina and 10x Genomics. Furthermore, salary isn’t the only reason a candidate wants to move jobs and if your company has something else exciting to offer candidates, we encourage you to promote and market this. For example, if you have a great culture, stability, realistic progression opportunities or a cutting-edge technology, these can be very appealing.

Lastly, be transparent! It’s a good idea to know a candidate’s salary expectations from the beginning of an interview process as this will a) save a lot of time and b) help build connections for the future as candidates appreciate the honesty.


3. Invest in your people

We’ve spoken about ways to make sure you’re able to bring on top-tier new talent, but we’d be remiss to not mention the importance of investing in the talent already on your payroll. Just as you’re working hard to attract industry talent, your competitors are doing the same, and having team members poached can be a huge – and often preventable – loss. I’ve heard this past year be described as a ‘talent tsunami’ and ‘the great resignation’ with so many people moving in search of better offers. Now more than ever, the financial and practical costs of replacing an existing employee make preventative investments, such as salary increases and training and development, a no brainer.

The main, obvious strategy here is to ensure your remuneration packages are in keeping with industry standards. Especially in a climate of fast-rising average salaries, failing to offer existing employees appropriate pay rises can see you quickly fall behind and risk losing them to better offers. Again, regular benchmarking and knowing what your competition are offering can really help alleviate any disparities.

Perhaps less obvious, but often just as important, is checking in on employee satisfaction and wellbeing. Cultural and social frustrations in the workplace can be as influential as salary dissatisfaction and investing time and resources into making your firm a supportive and healthy place to work will do wonders for your retention rate.

I’ve been working with a client over the last two years that has been able to maintain impressive staff retention and has long tenures as a whole business. What I’ve seen them do to support this is the following:

  • Increasing salaries to ensure team members are being compensated equitably
  • Offering in-depth training and support
  • Prioritizing development opportunities and helping employees achieve their career goals
  • Adapting! Making typically office-based roles hybrid or remote
  • Promoting from within the organization where possible

These tips should help promote employee satisfaction and reduce the risk of losing great talent to better offers.



If you need support with hiring to biotechnology positions, get in touch at – we’d love to chat.